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Frank Wren signed B.J. Upton in November and today traded for Justin Upton.
The road to the NL East title now bypasses the City of Brotherly Love altogether. It starts on South Capitol Street and runs due south through Atlanta.
Yes, the Braves are far and away the Nationals' toughest competition this season, a team that already posed a strong challenge last year and has now made some of baseball's boldest moves this winter to improve an already impressive roster.
The boldest move of them all came today with the completion of a seven-player trade that brings Justin Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson to Atlanta and sends Martin Prado and prospects to Arizona. Combined with November's signing of B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75 million deal, the Braves suddenly boast as talented an outfield as there is in the National League: the Upton brothers plus Jason Heyward.
Add the offseason addition of flame-throwing reliever Jordan Walden and the projected return of starter Brandon Beachy from Tommy John surgery in June, and Atlanta has made some major moves to upgrade what was already a 94-win team last season.
Which isn't to say the Braves haven't also lost some key pieces. Chipper Jones' retirement will loom large, even more so now because Prado was projected to see at least some action at third base in his stead. Now manager Fredi Gonzalez will have to use a platoon of Juan Francisco and Johnson, a significant downgrade from what the franchise has had at the position the last 20 years.
The Braves also traded away starter Tommy Hanson and prospect Randall Delgado (essentially their No. 6 starter), don't expect All-Star catcher Brian McCann to be healthy on Opening Day and lost backup catcher David Ross to free agency.
So, how does this reconfigured Atlanta team stack up against an also-bolstered Washington roster? Let's compare in four categories: lineup, rotation, bullpen and bench...
CF Denard Span SS Andrelton Simmons
RF Jayson Werth RF Jason Heyward
LF Bryce Harper LF Justin Upton
3B Ryan Zimmerman 1B Freddie Freeman
1B Adam LaRoche CF B.J. Upton
SS Ian Desmond 2B Dan Uggla
2B Danny Espinosa 3B J.Francisco/C.Johnson
C Kurt Suzuki C Gerald Laird
EDGE: Braves. Nothing against the Nationals' lineup, which is stacked and well-balanced with both power and speed from both sides of the plate. But that Atlanta lineup has the potential to be devastating in the power department, especially when McCann returns from his injury. One downside: There are going to be a whole lot of strikeouts from that group.
RHP Stephen Strasburg RHP Tim Hudson
LHP Gio Gonzalez RHP Kris Medlen
RHP Jordan Zimmermann LHP Mike Minor
RHP Dan Haren LHP Paul Maholm
LHP Ross Detwiler RHP Julio Teheran
EDGE: Nationals. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better rotation in baseball than what the Nationals project to send to the mound to open the season. Hudson is still a very good pitcher, but not quite what he used to be. Medlen was utterly dominant last season, but can he duplicate it? Even if those two live up to expectations, Atlanta can't boast the rotation depth that Washington has.
RHP Rafael Soriano RHP Craig Kimbrel
RHP Drew Storen LHP Jonny Venters
RHP Tyler Clippard RHP Jordan Walden
RHP Ryan Mattheus LHP Eric O'Flaherty
RHP Craig Stammen RHP Cory Gearrin
LHP Zach Duke LHP Luis Avilan
RHP Henry Rodriguez RHP Cristhian Martinez
EDGE: Braves. Again, nothing against the Nationals' relief corps, which includes three guys who have been successful closers in the last two seasons. But Atlanta's got the best bullpen in baseball, not to mention the best closer in the game right now in Kimbrel.
C Wilson Ramos C Matt Pagnozzi
IF Steve Lombardozzi IF Ramiro Pena
IF Chad Tracy IF C.Johnson/J.Francisco
OF Roger Bernadina OF Reed Johnson
OF Tyler Moore OF Jordan Schafer
EDGE: Nationals. Ramos is good enough to start (if healthy). Lombardozzi and Moore really impressed as rookies last season. Bernadina has solidified himself as a solid No. 4 outfielder. And Tracy is one of the best pinch-hitters in the game. The Braves' bench is strong, as well, but can't match the power of Washington's reserve unit.
So, what's the final verdict? How do these two teams match up overall? Clearly, the Braves have one of the best lineups and bullpens in the majors. But the Nationals have one of the best rotations and perhaps benches. And aren't especially weak in the other categories.
If you had to give the nod to one or the other right now, the Nationals do appear to hold a slight edge. But make no mistake: These two clubs are loaded, and that's going to make for one heck of a battle for the NL East crown in 2013.